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Tuesday 26 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
# Travel
Rapid pre-departure testing will get loved ones home for Christmas, says Dublin Airport Authority
Representatives from Ryanair, Aer Lingus as well as the Shannon Group and Rome Airport will also appear before the committee.

PRE-DEPARTURE TESTING is a “safer alternative” to restrictions, the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) will tell the Oireachtas Transport Committee today.

In the authority’s opening statement, the DAA says a strong pre-departure testing regime for both orange and red zone locations would be far more advantageous for Ireland’s recovery than the current situation.

Representatives from Ryanair, Aer Lingus as well as the Shannon Group and Rome Airport will also appear before the committee today.

Ireland has agreed to align with the new EU traffic light plan for international travel, which will see the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control publishing a weekly map of the EU using a three-stage colour system to indicate the level of risk in each area.

The new traffic light system should allow for relatives and friends to return home to Ireland for Christmas this year, something ministers are keen to see happen.

While the current requirement for a person to restrict their movements for 14 days following arrival from a ‘red’ region remains until further notice, the Government is planning that as soon as it is practicable, this requirement can be waived following a negative result from an approved Covid-19 test taken five days after arrival.

From midnight on 8 November – the date the new traffic light travel scheme comes into effect in Ireland – the requirement for those arriving from orange locations to restrict their movements can be waived, if they have a negative test result up to three days before arrival.

This test must be conducted by an authorised entity recognised within that member state.

The DAA noted such developments in its statement, adding that some two-thirds of European countries now offer testing at their airports. 

Committee members will be told today that the DAA has secured suppliers to deliver pre-departure testing facilities at Irish airports.

“Our preference was to have these service providers onsite at Dublin and Cork airports to offer pre-departure testing to passengers. To do this requires a planning exemption from Government that has been given to certain other COVID testing locations.

“Unfortunately, thus far, the State has not provided DAA with the planning exemption
required and, in that context, we cannot at this point offer onsite testing at our airports,” says the opening statement.

The DAA says it has spent months working on potential pre-departure testing at airports, stating that they did this in the belief that there would be a harmonised system across Europe and that the Irish Government would unequivocally support a pre-departure testing approach.

The statement says that outbound testing facilities is required to support reciprocal arrangements in other countries and to facilitate reinstating Ireland’s connectivity and therefore its economy.

Yesterday, a European Commission official said that a harmonising and common approach protocols on testing will be ready “within weeks”.

Ultimately, the slow turnaround time and high cost of PCR test (the test for Covid-19 used at test centres around the country) means this method of testing
will not represent a viable, long-term testing option as traffic returns,the DAA will state today.

“The aim has to be to adopt testing technology that provides a rapid, affordable and scalable method of pre-departure testing.

“To truly get people moving again – and the economy firing, we will need to look at
alternative options such as LAMP and Antigen testing. HIQA recently published a report
which advised NPHET to consider implementing reliable rapid antigen tests to enhance
COVID-19 prevention and controls,” says the statement. 

The National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) is currently carrying out a validation process on LAMP testing, it is understood. If approved by the Department of Health, the new test could be incorporated into Ireland’s testing regime in order to open up international travel again.

The LAMP test uses a throat and nose swab and differs from a PCR test, which is used by the HSE to detect the presence of Covid-19 at its test centres around the country. The LAMP test can be processed quickly without being sent to a laboratory.

Currently, the only validated test recognised in Ireland is the PCR test. After someone is swabbed, the PCR test has to be sent to a lab for analysis. The new LAMP test does not, and can deliver results in an hour or so. This would be used for anyone wishing to leave the country.

The DAA has already sought support from both the NVRL and HSE to have both LAMP and antigen technologies validated and accredited.

“Ongoing support from all authorities to continuously explore these alternative testing methods is absolutely critical,” says the DAA.

There is already evidence to show that other countries are starting to embrace these
technologies, says the airport authority.

Five airports are currently offering rapid testing methods, including London Heathrow and Paris Charles De Gaulle, committee members will be told.

“We would expect to see more and more airports and Governments endorsing these methods as we learn to live and travel alongside COVID-19. Ironically, it appears that under our Government’s planned application of the traffic light system, Ireland will accept a pre-departure Antigen test if it was approved in another EU member state, but won’t as yet endorse this system at home.”

The authority says Christmas is just 58 days away, adding:

“We want to welcome home our loved ones safely and to allow those living here who have not been able to see their families overseas to be reunited. We appeal for your support for the adoption of a rapid, affordable, scalable, approach to pre-departure testing that will facilitate reinstating travel in the long-term economic and social interests of our country.”

Ryanair’s opening statement to the committee calls on the Irish government to adopt the EU traffic light system immediately with no restrictions on travel within the EU for green and amber countries and regions.

The airline says connectivity for Christmas must be achieved by ensuring that aviation policy allows Irish families to reunite over Christmas.

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan has said public health experts have yet to give any consideration to whether people should travel home from abroad for Christmas.

Speaking at a press briefing this evening, Holohan said if there is a need to give consideration or advice to government in the weeks ahead on the matter, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will certainly do so.

He told that it is NPHET’s position that the risks associated with international travel are “very, very high”.

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